Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential with your host Lisa Tamati, brought to you by lisatamati.com.
Lisa Tamati: Well, hi everyone and welcome back to Pushing the Limits. This week I have another wonderful professor with me who is going to share some insights and the latest research and I'm really, really excited for this interview. I have Professor Grant Schofield, who is the Professor of Public Health at Auckland University of Technology. He's also the director of the University's Human Potential Center, located at Millennium Campus up in Auckland. His interests lie with dealing with chronic disease and well being and prevention around degenerative diseases, obesity, metabolic disorders. He’s a very, very interesting man, he's written a number of books along with his team. I think you're going to really enjoy this conversation. We're pretty frank and upfront about our beliefs, and they’re very much aligned so I really enjoyed this talk with Professor Grant Schofield.
Before we head over to the show, just a reminder to check out our patron program, www.patron.lisatamati.com, and I'd also love you to check out our flagship epigenetics program. Our epigenetics is all about understanding your own genes, and how to optimize them for your best health. So looking at areas from your food, to your exercise to the what times of the day to do things, your chronobiology, that's called looking at your mood and behavior, your what parts of the brain you use most dominantly, and this is a very powerful program that has changed really, hundreds of lives. We've now used it for a number of years in the corporate space, as well as in the athletic space, as well as with people dealing with different health issues. So if you want to find out more, go to lisatamati.com and hit the work with us button and you'll see our Peak Epigenetics program.
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Well, hi, everyone, and welcome back to Pushing the Limits. Today, I have a superstar. I have a guest that I'm really, really excited about speaking to because this is a very learned gentleman and an elite athlete and someone who I greatly admire. I have Professor Grant Schofield to guest. Welcome to the show. I’m glad to have you, Grant!
Prof Grant Schofield: Hey, Lisa. Yeah, thanks for having me. And, yeah, I've been following you from a distance for years. And you know, just enjoying your achievements love, and it's so great to have you on the show.
Lisa: And likewise in reverse. So thank you very much. It's a real honor. So today we, I reckon we just gonna dive into some of the stuff that you've been researching and what's on your mind at the moment, because you've got so many areas that I could go down, you know, looking at high fat diets and obesity and diabetes and prevention. Then we can look at the weight paper that you've just recently released, which I've, I just studied and went, ‘Wow, that was all about glutamate and toxicity and all that’. Well, that's new, that was all new to me. So which direction and firstly, give us a bit of an introduction to you in your background and your sporting career and all of that sort of stuff.
Grant: Yeah. So, like, I'd always, something that always interests me in my life is things that I was sort of good at, and I was only good at it because I like doing them was, not so much school, but science and biology. I just liked it. I just like learning about that stuff. I was right from the very start of school and this is just something that continued to happen. I also like doing sports. I was just like one of those kids who is into the sports and I was okay. It was like, every New Zealand kid plays rugby. I wasn't that great, but I played it, you know, I've got on the 15 rugby and all this sort of stuff and that sort of thing. And the school I said also had rowing as a sport, which Yeah, and they did a performance level. So it was to win the national championships. And they so, the crews I was in, trained hard. And there was high-performance aspects, as long as they were in hindsight of nutrition and psychology and training and the broad range of things that good teenage athletes get involved with.
Then of course, they don't finish as when you finish the school, and I sort of found myself, thought I’ll go to uni. My dad was an engineer and he thought I should go to, I wanted to go to do physical education. That was the main thing I was interested in, and my family sort of pulled me out of it and told me I should have gone to engineering. I lasted a week in there. It obviously wasn't for me. But I ended up in a degree studying physiology and psychology, just a science degree because that's what I found interesting. And then I went from, not really been that interested all of sudden getting these A-pluses. I didn't think I was brainy. But it was just, you know, I was just used to go to lectures, and not really take notes, and just listen and ask questions, and it was really interesting. But because I wasn't that mature, there was never a point in my life early on where I was like, Grant Schofield is now capable of getting a decent job where someone's going to employ him, and he's going to make some difference to the world. That wasn't a thing, right?
Grant: So I couldn't finish this one degree and go and get a job because I wasn't capable of doing any work. I didn't think I could at the time. But that's the reality in hindsight, right? So. Of course, this is the early 90s. And this sport of triathlon was coming on the scene where I live in New Zealand, there was these great personalities like Erin Baker, another woman, Erin Christie, another one, Rick Wells, and, just to a young person, and then I ended up, you know, going out training with quite large, and a lot of these people, and I just got into the sport. The thing is about endurance, especially longer, it’s as you know, what, you need to be sort of mentally tough, the pain’s a lot softer than something like rowing or, or, you know, measuring 3,000 meters running or, you know, 400-800 meter swimming, these are sports with a piano actually does fall hard on you. And so that sort of softer pain of the—
Lisa: Softer, longer.
Lisa: There's all the pains that come with it, yeah.
Grant: But it's more of a, it's more of a thinking person sport, right, because you get to work through that. Whereas, you know, in a 400-meter is something that you don't get to work through anything. It's just falling on you, the cut score is coming in. And so I really love that stuff. And so I just did more and more of I just want to do nothing but that. The mindset of the endurance ethic that just wants to do more and more and more. Luckily, I sort of carried on with my studies and then started my academic career. And then I became a psychologist, I'm actually quite useless at psychology because, mainly because I want to give people the answer. And of course, you know, good psychological counseling is about asking open-ended questions, reflective listening, and waiting for the client to come up with a solution, which is absolutely hopeless. As my wife would tell you—
Lisa: You’re an action orientated guy, like no, there is the solution here.
Grant: Yeah. This is why this is the problem for us. It's this sort that out. By then, by the early 2000s, when it really just dawned on us that our kids didn't look like we did when we were kids.
Grant: You can look. I actually was reflecting on the other day, I looked at my photo of Twizel Primary School, Year One in 1974. And, yeah, by modern standards, people will be wondering if those kids are properly fed, why the teachers are so lean. And you compare that with a modern day Year One primary school class, or later, and it's a different world we lived in.
So that was the early 2000s, that world had unfolded, right? So didn't, wasn't the same.
Lisa: It’s scary.
Grant: And as fit as I used to be, they weren't the same shape they used to be and we wondered why. And so that was really the field that welcomed me, which was that topic of nutrition.
Lisa: Wow. So that’s where you got into, yeah.
Grant: Yeah, yeah, just didn't mean to. And then, you know, all of a sudden, I guess my research career’s followed my curiosity around the world. So when you're, when you've got young kids, you're interested in young kids. When you've got teenagers, youngsters, young teenagers, When I was racing, elite, high performance, triathlons, we're interested in that. And thankfully, being an academic, it allows you to, especially in my field, allows you the freedom to roam around those and understand those different things. So I've sort of had a, maybe it's a short concentration span, but effectively just a curiosity to keep rolling my research career and practice.
Lisa: It's really good that you can do that with an academic career sort of go go like this and still stay—
Grant: You can’t go off into sort of, you know, rocket propulsion or something, but, you know, yeah, as long as I stick it to the main things, which are being sort of fitness, nutrition, sleep, well being, then those sort of four things combined, have really been my wheelhouse. But in different, the settings, and the context seems to often change. And then you just, you'll do some work and you'll discover what you think an answer is, or not an answer is, it's a dead end or it's actually got places to go, then you're sort of done with it, and you're on to the next sort of variation of something.
So that's sort of been my life. So the latter stuff is really, we've done a lot of work on low-carb and keto diets, fasting, written quite a few books on that.
Lisa: Yeah, What the Fat? and—
Grant: And yeah, yeah, and so that's been really interesting for me, you know, for, for reversing things like diabetes at one end of the spectrum, sort of net, sort of metabolic dysregulation, through to the other end of a high performance.
I'm an athlete, so I coach still, you know, being able to triple their ability to burn free fatty acids at a given intensity and really have a pretty much inexhaustible fuel supply. Before that, they would, you know, really run out of glycogen and struggle through the enjoyment and performance of an event. So—
Lisa: Let's start with that one, just if I may interrupt you there, because it's, you know, something that's fascinated me. When I was, you know, active career, I'd never become fat-adapted as an athlete. Your take is that, should endurance athletes be always fat-adapted? Or is it a genetic thing some people are good at, and some people are less so? What is your take on it now, like, given the knowledge that you have and the experience?
Grant: So I think that the normal human condition, if you wander up to a Paleolithic human before we started farming grains and wheat and stuff, that sort of hunter gatherers that they would have enjoyed this metabolic flexibility to use fat as a primary fuel source when are resting and moving around low intensities, and then as they got higher and higher intensity, then they would have supplemented that fat burning with extra energy produced from burning glucose in the body. But that doesn't exist. So commonly, and so we're just in the normal human state that lets you burn fat in some circumstances, and carbs and fat in other circumstance.
But if you went down to the local Westfield shopping mall and went to the food hall, and you you bought all those people up to my lab and put them on our metabolic card and measured there, because you can measure both breath by breath gas analysis and understand whether they've been in primarily fat or carbohydrate or whatever mix of. So we do that sort of graded exercise tissue stop at risk, just breathing into the tube. The machine’s analyzing fat and carb burning, and as you increase your intensity, like running speed or power on the bike, then you just see this greater change.
Now, your average person off the street in the food hall doesn't burn fat, even at rest. So they’re metabolically inflexible. Yep. And then the question is, can you train that? And can you train that even on high performance athletes? I think the answer is yes, and I'll give you a good example. There's a young fellow I trained, Matt Kurt and what I mean, saying this. I've trained him for a few years now. So he came from a CrossFit background. He was a fit young man. Yeah, he would be eating mostly carbs, actually.
Lisa: Yeah, we were all told back in the day.
Grant: Yeah, totally. So he wanted me to help him prepare for an Ironman triathlon. And so I started training him and say, on an April one year so over in New Zealand winter, didn't really mention diet, because we couldn't seem to get to that but we sort of got on the on the idea that he had to go bike riding, and what running would look like, and it was learning the sports. And by December, he did his first triathlon, which was a 70.3, sort of half Ironman, with a view to going through the Ironman in New Zealand three months later and beginning of March, and he did pretty well actually, like it came fourth overall in the amateurs, so he is talented young man, and he’s a swimmer. He could hit a bike, he could run a bit. But I knew he was a cub and I was like, I need to put you in my lab and we need to measure your fuel burning on that.
So in early December, we got them in there and his peak fat oxidation was about half a gram, a minute, at about 165 watts in the box. So it's not very good power, output is not going to be very fast. And he's only getting because a gram of fat has about nine calories, he’s spending half of one of those a minute over 60 minutes. He’s got about 400 to 500 calories an hour available from fat, and you know, he's going to be racing at 1200 calories an hour.
Grant: So over several hours, yeah. He's simply is going to run into all sorts of trouble, because he's got this deficit of 800 calories an hour, he needs to find from glucose. He's got probably 2000 calories that he's got in his muscles and liver. He can consume another couple of 100 by eating gels and stuff, or bananas or something. So he's woefully short. And so it means he can just make a half, I mean, over four hours. We probably have eight or nine hours, he's going to grovel home. He’s going to be a really bad mess. And that's what you see. It's always frustrated me. I got things like Ironman Triathlon, they sort of, 8-15 hour events, or 17 hour events for people.
And I think the saddest thing for me is, first of all this, two thirds of the fittest still mimics the general population, which is overweight.
Grant: And virtually all of them run out of glucose or glycogen and their body, sometimes during the bike or shortly into the run. And so the whole marathon experience for them is a very unpleasant affair.
They don't like doing it, they finally make it, it's been a real drain on, and they've had so much support from their friends and family over that preparation period, and it was all avoidable. So with Matt, within a mile, we're like, what this is going to happen with you, Matt. So we're stuck on a strict keto diet for three weeks, his training over that period was fairly low intensity, we didn’t really go for any intensity up until after the new year period. And then just sit them on to Iron Man training, and that includes his long run and his long bike which he did weekly, and I've been doing them fasted. Yeah, so with just water. People find that a little bit extreme but his intensity is really low. We'd go out and do you know, like a six hour bike in the end that with no food, and he’d be fine.
Lisa: And that’s the thing, you're adapted.
Grant: You get adapted. And so going back into the lab just before Iron Man, and he’d improved his maximum fat oxidation from half a gram a minute at 165 watts or something, to 1.1 grams a minute at 260 watts.
Grant: So now he's able to supply 800 calories an hour from fat, and he can do it at 260 watts, which is actually a reasonably competitive pair out, but he's going to get along at you know, 39, 40 calories an hour.
Grant: And yeah, and so in his first, second ever triathlon, in his first Iron Man, he does, he finishes, I don't know, the top 10 and 9 hours 22. So good effort.
Lisa: That’s amazing.
Grant: Yeah, we come back the next year, now with a bit more training on his belt, and he can he manages 8 hours 50. Wow. And this year, he comes back and he wins the entire age group race by half an hour, breaks the course record by seven minutes and does 8:27. And I got him back in the lab straight after that. And what we saw as further fed adaptation over that two-year period, so now he is able to burn 1.8 grams a minute of fat at 310 watts, and that's an astonishing power output. So 310 watts, yeah, you're doing 42 Ks an hour, on a decent course. And that's, he rode 4 hours 29 480 Ks, it's an astonishing time, especially for a guy who's working full time as a teacher.
Lisa: That's insane.
Grant: So that's what we mean by being metabolically flexible, and, and becoming a real fat-burning machine.
Lisa: But what about the arguments about you know, I mean, keto diet is a very difficult diet for people to, if we're talking about the general population now, and it's quite a hard diet to stick to, long term. What about adherence to things? Do you have to be strictly keto? Do you have to be really low on your carbs in order to get the ketones and be in ketosis and to get this fat adaptation? Is there any middle ground? Can you—
Grant: Oh, yeah, yeah. It's a great question. I mean, the series of questions you got there, Lisa, are just crucial. And the answer is, initially getting into that. as I'm, for that three, it's very strict. And so that's three weeks. After that, it's very much cyclical. So we generate nutritional ketosis and fat burning by fasted long workouts. And on other cases during the week, we're adding carbohydrates quite a bit. So it's definitely not a strict ketogenic diet at all. And we'll have off periods where he's just eating whatever. In fact, I have trouble trying to get him off the ketone to be a bit more loose, frankly. But that's, that's an athlete, not a normal human, in that sense. This is why I introduced the idea of fasting and intermittent fasting and I'm quite keen on that. And for me, what the fast what I tried to sort of mimic what I felt was an easy, sustainable, cyclical way for me to eat that generated fat burning.
Lisa: And pursued it with autophagy? We're all talking about intermittent fasting and I do it like an intermittent fasting, a short-ish intermittent fasting. Is that going to this, I'm not gonna get into ketosis doing an intermittent fasting.
Grant: So I just, I would do this sort of pattern of Sunday, try and be reasonably good on the low carb, just eat whatever I wanted. But try and be okay with it. Monday, do some restricted eating windows. So you know, might be, a longest window. Someone who's experienced like me, I could just have one meal that day, and the Tuesday I just did the same thing. So you know, and when I hit a meal I made sure it was super filling, super nutritious, I was calling that super meals. So that's my, that's my Monday and Tuesday, my hard parts of the week, right I worked hard and I concentrated hard on my freshly generated nutritional ketosis. By Monday lunchtime, despite the weekend, Saturday being quite poor, I was back in full ketosis.
I made a bit of an effort, I managed to sort of hang on to some stuff with no real particular restriction but trying to keep the carbs down for Wednesday, Thursday. By the end of Friday, everything had sort of gone pretty loose. And Saturday it was, could be, sometimes off the route is completely out of nutritional ketosis and plenty of carbs, even the odd bit of alcohol, which I'm not encouraging, by the way, but that just seems to happen sometimes.
Lisa: Yeah. And we've got to live, too,
Grant: Yeah, yeah. So I'd be completely out of ketosis and in no shape for that at all. But by Monday morning, I'll be back in again. So I just get this period.
Lisa: So you can do that. It's been my question today is like, do I, if I go to keto, you know, go the keto diet. Do you have to do it as a religion? This is me. And then you get people like Dave Asprey and and if you read his book, Fast This Way, and that, he talks about cyclic keto, and how that's even better than just being straight keto, because keto itself can have some negative benefits.
Dr Grant: Yeah, I completely agree. And so unless you're wanting to be on keto, for some sort of therapeutic resume, I said, you know, glioblastoma, brain cancer or brain injury like a TBI, I think so. Interesting thing, some other cancers, or you're in chemotherapy, then I don't see any reason to be in that state all the time. But the point is having a bit of bollock machinery to be able to be and easily get in and out. My hypothesis is the Paleolithic one, which is really that humans are metabolically flexible, it's the normal human condition and to see modern humans that have really lost their orchestration of the metabolism to, to burn fat as a primary fuel sources as a sort of denying your own humanity type situation without being too dramatic about it, really.
Lisa: But yeah, if we, I was reading one of your blogs, and you hit another, Dr Lisa Te Morenga, I think it was, saying, oh, but you know, like, if we look at from an evolutionary perspective, the caveman because this is an argument that I've had with people too, oh, but the cavemen didn't live very long, so therefore, it's not a good diet. To say that that's, but that's not a bit that helped us survive till now. You know, like we—
Grant: I think that’s a complete straw man of an argument, by the way.
Lisa: Yeah, I think so too.
Grant: I mean, I think, you know, I mean, first of all, while the average lifespan, is fairly low for people, it’s just for other reasons!
Lisa: It’s for other reasons.
Grant: So if you didn't have those reasons, your actual survival was pretty good. And actually, the important thing to remember is that Paleolithic humans didn't have chronic disease. So they didn't have this, these, what is it a New Zealand at the moment, 12 years of disability in their life before they died, which, so subtract 12 off your lifespan, to get your health span, to health span, span with the same thing. And also question about that.
Lisa: We don't have infant mortality, like they did. And we didn't have lions chasing us, and we've got all these other things that make us live longer. But now we have to take even more care of our metabolic state, in order that we don't have these long term. And I mean, I've been living with the consequences of mom's metabolic disorders, leading to an aneurysm, for the past five years, and trying to undo the damage. You know, what I'm talking about is like, in that decline that we see with so many people for over decades, sometimes, and it's just a horrific way to go out for starters.
Grant: You know, I don't think anyone, if you ask them when they're in good health, about how they want the rest of their life to track, says they want to be in poor health with a low health span. I don't think that's a topic that people raise as being a good thing.
Grant: It's my experience. When I ask even people who aren't doing many healthy behaviors of what they want, then they'll say health, family, friends and happiness, whatever that means. But they, yeah,
Lisa: Yeah. And I think this is the discussion that we need to be having, so that we find out what the optimum diet is. People I know, I've struggled with my diet over the years. One of the reasons I started running was because I wanted to eat more, because I love food. And then, then I suddenly, at some point, I realized, this hypothesis of calories in calories out is absolute bullshit. This isn't working and that really came to you know, people who hear my podcasts and hear me say when I ran through New Zealand, and I just suddenly woke up. I was running 500 kilometers a week. Yeah, and I was getting fatter because I was in a complete state of chaos. You know, my hormones were up, my water retention, all of that sort of—
Grant: High amount of inflammation, probably.
Lisa: Huge amounts of inflammation. And I ended up flaccid, losing muscle mass and getting fatter and having a slower metabolic rate. I could have sat on the couch and eaten chips and gotten better, you know, in shape?
Lisa: So that's when a light bulb went for me, and then it also had other reasons like genetically I'm not really made for the long distance stuff, I'm more the high intensity, shorter, sharper, is more suited to me. So I was doing that wrong as well, because some people, it's better to be doing the long. But I think having these discussions where we really dig in, and you've done the research, you know, what, from an evolutionary perspective, what we need to be eating. The state of our food now is horrific. Then you, you add into all that the whole addictive nature of all the stuff and the additives, or preservatives, the MSGs for all of the sugars that are added to our phones, and people are up against it. Like, you know, you can’t even—
Grant: Yeah, I agree. Those two topics that might be worth going into those, I've got two—
Lisa: Yes, please.
Grant: —sort of bases, working in both those areas, the first you mentioned, like you go out, the state of our food supply. So what we've been doing recently is we've been going to primary schools around the place. And we've been taking photos of all the year sixes’ lunchboxes. And whatever you think, particularly on what we call that social gradient, that sort of tipping of rich versus poor at the bottom end of that, whatever you think the food supply’s like, I don't care what you think about how bad it is. It's worse than you think.
Grant: I actually cried, I actually physically cried.
Lisa: That’s what our kids are getting to eat every day.
Grant: Yeah, and how that's not a priority. Just remember that the biggest cost to our healthcare system for our kids is having to anesthetize them to extract teeth because they're rotten at age five, and we can't walk around too much if they're not anesthetized. So yeah, I mean, what society treats its most vulnerable like that? Just one little rant: in kids healthcare, we have to go and do fundraising and buy raffle tickets to pay for the hospitals for kids. And we don’t do that with adults. That sort of fundraising for that is despicable. It's not a government that cares.
Lisa: Not to mention the whole bloody ambulance service.
Grant: Yeah, there’s all of that, wouldn’t I fund that? There’s all of that stuff as well. So that's just a mess of how, frankly, Ad the second thing is I've got another student who's just really got into this, the addiction side of food. And as a former psychologist, she goes through and look at the, some, you know, use this Diagnostic and Statistical Manual DSM, DSM-5 is the latest version, which is a way of characterizing disorders.
And you look at the substance misuse disorder, which is really around addictions. And you know, if you change the word alcohol or methamphetamine or tobacco for sugar, yeah, then, you know, the sorts of things you know, sometimes feel withdrawal sometimes. I eat more than I should change unprofessional behavior and makes things worse in my life. You go across all 11 criteria, and you go, Yeah, it's pretty plausible. That's a real thing. Yeah. And the thing is, with addictions, of course, is that people go because everyone is not addicted to it, doesn't mean it's not a thing. So there's this, there's a lot of alcohol drunk where people don't turn into alcoholics It doesn't mean there's not such a thing as alcoholics. And there's, you know, for many people, it becomes a substance they can't control using and I feel the same things about sugar in your ultra processed food in general really.
Lisa: Yeah. And the sugar I mean, the I mean like people like you I know you've done a lot of work with a Pacific Island population and Maori and so on, we have a predisposition to you know, not being able to cope with the sugars and more cardiovascular disease and more metabolic disorders. So even more Prater the stuff because we've already and haven't had I don't know hundreds of years of of having it to a certain degree in I mean, I've struggled no sugar is definitely one of those things that is one of the hardest addictions I think, not that I've been addicted to anything else but it's a bloody hard addiction to to get rid of and stay on top of.
Grant: Something like smoking or alcohol like the absence of is part of it is hard but just slightly easier because it's contained whereas sugar’s so ubiquitous in the food supply, you can't stop it. It's very hard, you know, all of a sudden you put some chili sauce on your something and you're damn near 75% sugar, you know, like?
Lisa: You don't even realize it unless you start baking them and making everything from scratch.- And then you know, not to mention all the MSGs and the additives, preservatives, emulsifiers that are you know, destroying our guts and causing us to want more. I mean, there's a real reason why you can't eat one chip. If you eat one chip, you've eaten the packet,
Grant: Well, that's certainly my experience. But strangely, and I had an argument with a dietitian the other day about this, there's a total open quote and short of eating. And it's like her hypothesis was, well, the whole reason we I was like, Look, there's no point having salted chips in my house, because they’ll last five minutes, I’ll eat the whole lot. Yes. Oh, no, no, no, the way you should overcome that is just have dozens of packets on there and just eat yourself silly and then you'll get over it. That’s just bullshit in my experience
Lisa: Pretty much done that, and that didn't work. That doesn't work. I've heard that theory too. I think that's absolute rubbish, and not something that I'd recommend for starters, because you're gonna start on an either like, that's like, you know, a little bit good, then we must have just have some more.
Lisa: That's ridiculous. Really, they still think that.
Grant: You know there's a whole movement?
Lisa: You're kidding? Okay. But how do we help people? Because people are unaware of the addictive nature of their food and we're so like, I don't have a big garden full of organic veggies. I never time, all the knowledge and I used to having my dad used to do my garden and then it was good. But now I don't. Most of us don't have access to good quality foods.
What the hell do we do? We go into a supermarket and it's just so easy to pick up a pre-made sauce, you know, tomato sauce, or Bolognese sauce instead of, you know, buying a bloody lot of tomatoes and making it. But yeah, but we've fallen into this trap. And now we're addicted all of us. Because the big food industry wants you to eat more of its crap.
Grant: Yeah, they've conspired both on research and practice. And then just in all practical ways. In fact, I wrote a paper with a couple of superstars actually a guy, Aseem Malhotra, who's a cardiologist, in London, and Rob Lustig, who's pretty famous, a pediatric endocrinologist from San Francisco about the the tricks that the food industry has pulled, which are pretty much the exact same ones as Big Tobacco have over the years, you know, creating bogus interest groups, false advocacy, sponsoring athletes, list goes on.
Lisa: I’m a part of that machinery, unfortunately, you know, when I was a young athlete being sponsored by Coca Cola—
Grant: I didn't, I was told, I was told not to come back to, I'm in New Zealand. I spoke there one time, a couple of years ago, because I had to guard the sponsors product, which was Nutrigrain, Kellogg's Nutrigrain, which is four and a half staff health rating food, that's, you know, a third sugar. It's just a disgrace. Yeah, that was not welcome again.
Lisa: When you see famous sports teams, I won’t name any, but they're nutritionists on the telly telling you to eat stuff that really is not what you want your kids eating. And you’re like, ‘Wow, that's wrong on so many levels’, you know?
Grant: I’ll tell you a story about that. I don’t know if I should tell this story. Years ago, I gave this talk on a sort of update on physical activity and health for the first-time executives of Coca Cola over this Waipuna Lodge in Auckland. I'd finished my talk, I was just at the back. And the head and corners in and go on. The next guy that got was a corporate guy from the US about how they're going to discredit various nutrition people and active tactics. I went around, and I sort of sat there and listened to it. And I was like, ‘Oh’, and then about halfway through, I was like, ‘Shit, I'll make sure I get out of here alive’. Yeah, but there was like an active discussion about, about the tactics to deal with scientists who were dissonant to the view, to the worldview, which I thought was a really interesting,
Lisa: This is a reality. And this is what's happening not only in the food industry, it's also happening in the pharmaceutical industry. It's also happening in many industries that we in the public are not, and when you've got people like you that are brave enough to stand up and say stuff, you get attacked. I'm quite surprised that my podcast hasn't been taken off here yet. But anyway.
Grant: Yeah, that's right. And yeah, it will heavily wind but people will be, there’s forces in play there. You don't want to get too conspiratorial because it sometimes requires a degree of organization that doesn't, that we’re capable of, but yeah, I think in the food industry case and pharmaceutical industry, the evidence has been there for a long time.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah. And I think, my approach to it now is like, we are possible, light a candle toward the good information rather than fighting and banging your head against the, you know, because otherwise you can end up in a very bad place. But okay, so we know that there's all these addictive forces, if you like, at play. And so because you just look around town, you know, in the obesity and they are boys they’re looking like girls and, you know, the hormone regulation is just obviously affected and fertility rates are going down. We're fighting a war here, and we've got kids that are already diabetic and before they're even teenagers, and this is a coming huge disaster for the healthcare system when you’re in public health.
Grant: Yeah, yeah. The present one that I've become much more interested in because it's, I think it's become more obvious today for a bunch of reasons. I'll tell you a few stories as mental health, particularly Youth Mental Health. I've been an academic for a few decades. And, you know, a decade ago or two decades ago, okay, students will get seconds, some would have some mild mental health problems, but it wasn't really a thing that you would see very much. Now at the moment, all the time I get students, students like it's dropping out of the degree now because of their mental health.
They've got anxiety. And these are really smart, intelligent, switched-on people with, these are the top of the socioeconomic ladder, we don’t know how much worse it is at the bottom. I didn't even get there in the first place. That youth suicide rate in New Zealand, it keeps getting talked about as the tip of an iceberg for a major problem. One of the women that I work with, mid-20s, beautiful, intelligent woman. Yeah, we're talking about SSRIs, antidepressants, because I've been on those I could have knocked me over I said, are, you know, is it a common thing for your friend group and that sort of thing? She goes, I pretty much everyone I know is on them. Yeah, yeah. And, and so we've got this—
Lisa: It’s a good sequence, isn’t it?
Grant: Because the brains are metabolic. We've got a metabolic crisis with obesity and diabetes, but guess what? The most important metabolic organ is your brain. Somehow, again, here we are, asleep at the wheel, we've got this, you've got this treatment gap. So even if we could treat them with anything effective, which is doubtful. From our current system, yeah, they can only treat half the half of the 910,000 people in the country of 5 million. Because 910,000 is the number of serious mental health problems. Wow. Half of them don't get any treatment whatsoever, because there is no treatment. You bring the mental health crisis line, which we've had to do. And they will say, are they killing themselves right now? And that's just like, no, that's like—
Lisa: ‘Okay, we've got time.’
Grant: Yeah, then okay, we're not doing it, I think. And we'll go to your doctor. If you go to your doctor, you know that there's a nine month wait to see a psychologist?. It’s just unacceptable.
Lisa: And what's the answer? The course, the easy answer for the doctor is to give them a SSRI.
Grant: Which doesn't work very well. No. neuroplasticity, if they're a young person, causes them harm.
Lisa: Closes down hormones. And does it different.
Grant: Yeah, 100%.
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Grant: So to me, the unacknowledged metabolic crisis here we can see obesity. We can measure diabetes. Yeah, and those are problems. But you know, to me the most perverse one, especially having, you know, teenage kids myself and that sort of thing is this youth mental health thing. It's despicable. Like my dad, yeah, good for him. He had metastatic prostate cancer and was sorted with this keto diet, but the amount of access to expensive treatment, he was able to get in his 80s. Compared to a young woman in her early 20s, who has a serious mental health problem that's going to affect her, and even around for the rest of their lives, who can get none. It's perverse, who spends their money on health that way? Yeah, like, I want my dad to get his treatment and get better and everything, which he has, but, what sort of society prioritizes that over these young people?
Lisa: Yeah, and what can we do? Like why, there is a lot of I mean, I talk research a lot, and I know that your research is also pointing in this direction, that there's a lot of health fundamentals that we can get right, that can actually help people without costing anything even, without having to be a pharmacological intervention. How about we try to teach people how to manage themselves? And I mean, I've had, I was on antidepressants for over 20 years, and I could not get off them, because they are addictive. It took me three years to get off them, and thank God I did. I, in my early 20s, had relationship crises, was put on them, just stayed on them because I didn't know any better.
What are, what implications that’s had for me, and then trying to get off them. And of course, your body starts to downregulate your own if you're not producing your own. I've got off them now, and I'm fine, and so on, and I'm helping other family members off them. But that was the first port of call. Now I understand the need for health fundamentals like sleep, hygiene, and movement, and exercise, and sunshine, and the right diet, because diet is a huge piece of the puzzle, because your gut and your brain are connected. And there's a lot of, like you say, a fix. When you have a bad diet, and you have bad nutrition, you're going to have more mental instability, if you want to put it that way, you're going to have more problems, than if you're on a good, really robust, solid, good diet. That's going to affect your mental health. And what are our kids, they're not giving any of that information, or any programs around it.
Grant: Yeah, and you interfere with one aspect of metabolic homeostasis with an antidepressant, and you're surprised that it doesn't work very well, and there’s unintended consequences. What we're trying to do is, and humans, I think, all want to be in the state, we're trying to return ourselves to a sort of metabolic homeostasis where things are balanced and well-regulated. For the most of the body, that's the primary target, there is a sugar in your blood and the insulin in your blood, because if those aren't right, then you're an inflammatory environment and pro-growth and no chance to, you know, being that autophagy of tightening things up. So that's the big metabolic picture. But in the brain, I've just started to stitch together a much more, I think coherent view of what's going on.
Because the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain is important. I just think with the low fat revolution, we pick fat, not carbohydrates. We pick the wrong one of the three. Yeah, well, this is alright, we pick serotonin as the neurotransmitter to manage, we need to get it back to where it started more quickly. That's what reuptake inhibitors do. And actually, sorry?
Lisa: You've written a paper recently on glutamate and its role in all this. Can you explain about it?
Grant: I have, six months ago, I had heard of glutamate because I, trying to, from psychology, and frankly, I'd forgotten what it did. Until one of my smart students reminded me that glutamate is the most important and most prevalent excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. It's about 90% of your neurotransmitters, it runs in tandem with an inhibitory system called GABA. And so these two things operate together. The inhibition fine tunes the excitation. And not only that, the glutamate gets recycled onto glutamine and then back into GABA and they rely on one another to be in a sort of, you know, good, healthy relationship, right?
And so what happens is, when there's over-excitation, which chronic stress does, then glutamate because it's excitatory neurotransmitters, just keeps getting pumped out. Pumped out, pumped out, and it hits its receptor in the other side of the synapse, between neurons. That receptor, it's called the NMDA receptor, it's downregulated. So it stops seeing the glutamate as much as it could be, which causes even more glutamate to be produced. And then this glutamate starts to seep out of that cleft and to just general space. And the trouble with it—
Lisa: It's toxic.
Grant: It’s toxic, and this is called glutamate excitotoxicity. So this is not a theory, this is a thing. And it starts to kill brain cells, and the trouble with it, first of all it atrophies neurons, which is never good, and they're not there anymore when they die. But those dying neurons themselves spill out glutamate, into more glutamate into the space, and you get this downward spiral of—
Grant: Neurodegeneration, exactly right. And so the most interesting thing in my mind about this, and this is why I'm so excited about it is because, and you'll see this. So the most obvious is a concussion or mild TBI, traumatic brain injury, is that what causes your initial brain cell death is just an insult, right? You bang your head, right? So you get that glutamate excitotoxicity. The initial effects of the concussion is mild, but the long-term effects of the concussion because of the glutamate excitotoxicity are severe. That's why concussions get worse and worse and worse for time after they've happened.
Lisa: Okay, thanks that somebody's saying that! Because people go to the hospitals with a concussion and they go, no, there's, you've had a mild concussion, go home and rest. And that's it. It's like we there's so much we can do—
Grant: 100% there's so much we can do. And I think we already do it when it gets really severe, right? So if you're in hospital with ischemia, lack of oxygen in the brain from a heart attack, or sometimes in some hospitals, that neonatal hypoxia, so newborns become deprived of oxygen. One way that they deal with that is they induce hypothermia, because cold exposure, especially in those areas, helps reduce glutamate. And they provide intravenous magnesium because magnesium antagonises as a receptor and allows glutamate to get back to its homeostatic levels more quick, and it's highly effective. And the animal studies are very, very convincing. And it's near a clinical practice for things like spinal cord injury.
And then you start to think about other ways that the brain gets damaged. So Alzheimer's and dementia is an interesting one. So for other reasons, including high glucose, we start to lose brain cells. But as soon as you start to do a little bit excitotoxicity, then exacerbates the problem massively. A mild or severe stress, which results in post traumatic stress disorder, is another way of damaging the brain initially through chronic, elevated glutamate but it rolls onto itself. And this is solved, then it's not a problem.
Lisa: This is why stress and trauma—
Grant: And chronic stress, you’re just stressed out, your fight or flight response is up more than it should. And it goes on a long time. The two to three minutes that it's designed to be up for is actually days, months, years, same thing. And so you've got these different pathways, getting brain damage.
Lisa: Brain damage is happening as well.
Grant: When you take, if you if you scan people with major depressive disorder, you autopsy people who've committed suicide, then you see severe atrophy and things like the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, important areas. And it's caused by chromatic toxicity. But the reason why that's interesting is that there's a lot you can do about it. And so we mentioned cold water therapy, just getting in cold water, especially you can breathe slowly and deeply through your nose, which downregulates the nervous system, as medical therapy for depression, right? Yeah. So and potentially I think for TBI and concussion and Alzheimer's and that sort of thing, because it helps with that.
But so is aerobic exercise for the same reason. So is a whole range of nutrient supplements, particularly magnesium, particularly you have to take them in the form of magnesium citrate or magnesium l-threonate. And the clinical trials of magnesium citrate and depression is a more effective medication than an antidepressant. And there is no real side effects. So magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fish oils, B complex vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, all anti-inflammatory, antioxidant type.
Lisa: And all stuff that I'm on every day, and my mum's on with her brain injury on, all the time.
Grant: That's right, because and they are downregulating glutamate transmission and achieving a glutamate GABA balance in a better way, as does presence of ketones in your blood occasionally, as does any sort of diet that’s anti-inflammatory, and any diet that's inflammatory, exacerbates the problem. So—
Lisa: So for things like brain injuries, like someone like mom who was in a coma and they were putting a ba- basically a glucose strip into the, you know, into feeding tubes. That's just like causing more damage than if we'd had ketones present if we'd had—
Grant: 100%, because you're, there's also a fuel cri- an accompanying fuel crisis on the brain where it can't—
Lisa: Uptake the glucose.
Grant: —uptake the glucose in the normal fashion, but you can use ketones. So you've got the glutamate part going on, and you've got the glucose fuel crisis. So you know—
Lisa: And isn't the same with Alzheimer's, and they, it's a, when you get insulin resistance, you also get the glucose not being able to be uptaken in the brain, and therefore the brain starving for glucose.
Grant: Yeah. So ketogenic diet for that group is actually a pretty therapeutic diet, that would be the one situation that would be, you know, granted, for keto is hard. I mean, obviously, it's a hard population group to work with them on that, but that doesn’t make it not therapeutic. That's another whole—
Lisa: No, and that's what I put, you know, like with mum’s brain injury, once I started to realize that from the research I was doing. I was doing I had her on as good as possible, keto diet for that first couple of years. Not so much now, because she's got autonomy so it’s harder regulate. But she does do intermittent fasting, and she has got all the supplements, and she has got a very, low-carb diet, as much as I can get it to do it, when she’s not sneaking things around my back. But this is just so crucial for all of these degenerative diseases, and I'm really excited about this glutamate thing, because it's only just come on my radar through your research, and I think that this is perhaps gonna go to the next level. Are you continuing the research on this?
Grant: Yeah, and I'm really interested in, I haven't been that interested in micronutrients through my career. I sort of felt while you're eating whole foods, you know, that should be the template. And I still think that, but I increasingly started to think, especially my colleague, Julia Ruckledge, who's a professor of psychology at University of Canterbury, in her work with micronutrients. She uses fairly high doses, but how effective those have been in her clinical trials with various aspects of mental health. And just as I see also random other outcomes like they just happened to be doing a clinical trial when the Christchurch earthquake happened, and they're only halfway through it. So the randomization wasn't quite complete.
They noticed at the end of the trial that the people in the micronutrient supplementation group, about 19% of those ended up with some sort of post traumatic stress from the Christchurch earthquake.
Grant: Those without, who are in the placebo group, 69% have post traumatic stress. And this is consistent with other research around, you know, the stress of natural disasters, natural disasters, and that sort of thing. And all sorts of things go wrong in the brain. And it's just, there's a mess of effects. If you could get this from a pharmaceutical, the pharmaceutical company would be all over it. But, you know, inexpensive micronutrients. So, you're interested in those really.
Lisa: So that improves your resilience. Basically, you've got the right vitamins and minerals and things in your body to do the work that's needed to be required. Have you ever heard about the research of ketamine and post traumatic stress? When that ketamine is able to stop the formation of the memories, the traumatic-ness if that's a word?
Grant: Yeah, so, so yes, yeah.
Lisa: Because it's part of that there'll be part of that glutamate thing, wouldn’t it?
Grant: Ketamine is, antagonizes the NDMA receptor, as the same mechanism magnesium roles a play, plays a role on. And so ketamine is a little bit more of a difficult substance to think about it because it's an analgesic and it's sort of that pre-anesthetic and acidic and it really spaces people out. But you're right across PTSD, single treatments have been shown to be highly effective. Single treatments with major depressive or otherwise intractable have shown to be temporarily effective. The most interesting one, for me, I was just talking to an ethicist the other day about this. He was talking about ketamine with chronic pain sufferers, and about half of the people they treat with ketamine with chronic pain, they have an instant and complete alleviation of the chronic pain. And they give them ketamine at a subclinical dose for five straight days. I don't know the ins and outs of that.
Lisa: Because it stops the pathways from—
Grant: I don’t know what, I’m thinking of. Re, re —
Grant: —re-tokenizes the receptors, and they go into my pathway for a start, which is the only real known mechanism amongst possible other things, but again, it's astonishing right? So this is otherwise incurable life debilitating chronic pain. Five days of treatment of the subclinical dose, you're not unconscious, you probably can't drive around, but it's gone, not there now. So ketamine is an interesting one. And equally, there's other interesting antagonists of that receptor, which, I am obviously no expert, but other people are starting to do the work and unfortunately become illegal drugs, like some of the solutions like psilocybin magic mushrooms, and, there’s are ayahuasca ceremony type things in South America.
Lisa: I hope they didn’t keep researching those. Just because they're drugs doesn't mean that they haven’t got therapeutic benefits.
Grant: So they have potential therapeutic benefits. And to understand that I think it's going to be that's, people will follow that, however I won't be doing any of that research, of course, but someone will be, and it'll be interesting to follow that as it unfolds. And you understand, just to finish it, and US in the 60s, all that came out. I was there, no one knew what to do with these drugs. So they just made them illegal, which is, you understand at that time, but probably needs to make another think about that.
Lisa: They do. So when we, so all of these things from things like Alzheimer's, to brain injuries, to stre-, chronic stress, to big stressful life events, all cause an excess of glutamate, is that correct?
Grant: Yeah. Because it's just overexcitation. Because it's the excitatory system, and you're overproducing and you haven't got a pathway.
Lisa: So you're in a sympathetic state, you're in a fight or flight response.
Grant: Yes, correct. And then it'll get there. And some of those are, just because there's, well, not the traumatic brain injury and the Alzheimer's aren't because of that. There's other reasons that they branch off. But for the PTSD, for the depression, for the, you know, chronic stress sufferer.
Lisa: This is why stress, one of the reasons why stress is just so damaging to us, isn't it?
Grant: Yeah, we weren't designed for long-term stress. We're designed for acute fight or flight.
Lisa: Yep, yep. And then be now, this is why I think there were the research and information around how to turn on your parasympathetic nervous system at will, breath work, cold therapies, or, saunas, heat therapies, all of these things that we can do to manage our stress levels, because which, you know, stress is probably not going to go away anytime soon. We've got these incredibly stressful lives that we lead now, with thousands of jobs that we have to do and things and things like when my dad passed away eight months ago, that was a stressor I couldn't control.
Grant: It's life, isn't it? Stressors evolve.
Lisa: And that's, I’ve lived a mess of post traumatic stress that, so I'm interested in all this research on how do I undo that damage, if you like? Yeah. How do I how do I manage it? This sort of stuff is really interesting.
Grant: I just think you know that the mainstream medicinal effects of cold therapy, hot therapy, and breath work, especially nasal breathing are now sufficiently well established to be mainstream. These are normal things to engage in your daily life, to manage your life.
Lisa: Absolutely, yeah. I think nasal breathing the work I don't know if you know, Patrick McKeown and James Nestor and stuff, they just absolutely amazing work that and information that we can put into our daily lives to help cope, or to help us cope with this stress that we're under, and the bad food even, can all help, and athletic performance.
Grant: And I love about those guys with that stuff, they've actually, they haven't tried to dumb down the science from the late for the lay public. They treat them with the respect that they deserve, and they just translate it into an understandable manner, but they don't dumb it down. They give you the full noise.
Lisa: I love that.
Grant: I love that. I just think, it's like I ate three plus servings of vegetables and fruit and exercise half an hour a day, and not too much gardening or do it. It's just bullshit. It's just treating us with disdain, and not with the deserve I respect, and respect that we deserve. For where’s the science in that? Now I actually get fitter, the more the better. As long as you manage it. It’s pretty friggin, like, why do they not. And I see cancer patients getting told, I just want to eat whatever makes you feel good.
Lisa: Oh, no.
Grant: No, I want the best possible information. Thank you.
Lisa: Yes. And not eating cookies while you're having chemo. You know, and that's what they're doing. And it's just like, do you not? Are you not aware? Have you looked at them for metabolic you know, approach to—
Grant: Often, the excuse that, the excuse that Lisa is, are well, they won't do it so there's no point telling them. That’s just not good enough, right?
Lisa: I know, and that is just treating you, and I've experienced this unfortunately firsthand, treating you like an idiot because you're not a professor.